Google 2001

by Kieran Healy on October 1, 2008

Though it may have seemed impossibly far off in our hazy youth, these days we fondly look back at the turn of the 21st century and think that was when the world was new and fresh and everything seemed possible. Or searchable, anyway. For one month only, here is Google’s index, c. 2001. It shows that we were present individually though not collectively. Besides nostalgia for this distant past, consider the results of searches such as “housing bubble” or “subprime mortgage lending” or “counterparty risk.”

The Spencer Foundation has just announced the second of its major strategic initiatives: on civic learning and civic action. Here’s the announcement, and here are the application guidelines. Please direct queries to the program administrator (whose contact details are at the bottom of the guidelines page).

And, if you missed it, the first strategic initiative is on Philosophy in Educational Policy and Practice; I am happy to entertain queries on that one.

While you are at their fantastic new website, check out the page devoted to papers resulting from Foundation grants: two interesting papers, one by Eric Hanushek on policy analysis, the other by Helen Ladd on accountability.

Left Behind

by Harry on October 1, 2008

Ingrid’s post below (plus a couple of other events) prompted me to look for G.A. Cohen’s new book: Rescuing Justice and Equality (UK) is apparently already out in the US despite being published on November 1st. I bought several copies (so my students can read it with me), and hereby promise that I’ll have some sort of review here in January (January, because, unlike Richard Arneson, I need time to review books that haven’t officially been published yet).

Analysing capitalism

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 1, 2008

The events of the last weeks have made me wonder about the agenda of contemporary analytical political philosophy. There are many ways to describe the current financial crisis, but it’s not implausible to say that the foundations of capitalism are shaking. Yet I find little help in contemporary analytical political philosophy to help me understand what’s going on. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place. Perhaps I am ignorant. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough (probably true given that there are so many other things that need to be done). Yet another explanation may be that in the last decades analytical political philosophers have focussed increasingly on issues to do with non-economic topics, or, as far as economic topics are concerned, on micro-economic topics and/or on issues of (re-)distribution or economic policies at the national/state level. Of course, there is quite a bit of related stuff – on the moral limits of the markets or on global justice for example. But are these literatures in themselves sufficient, or sufficiently integrated, to help us analyse capitalism? I doubt so.

I have friends and colleagues who work outside analytical political philosophy, have no background in economics at all, who are convinced they understand capitalism or neoliberalism and have strong normative views about these issues. So a possible thing for me to do would be to join them. Yet I have never found the ‘critical’ literatures they read very helpful – too rhetorical, too sweeping, insufficient analytical for my taste. Too much at the level of critique and deconstruction and too little at the level of helping us sort out the problems and propose constructive solutions. But at least the authors working in those literatures should be credited for having addressed crucial topics, which are, in my opinion, insufficiently addressed in the analytical tradition.

From informal talks over the last week I know I am not the only one with these doubts. Isn’t it time for a macro-economic turn in analytical political philosophy, that is, shouldn’t more of us put our efforts in analysing capitalism and alternative economic (global) systems, rather than focussing on micro-economic issues or non-economic issues? I suspect there is quite some (older?) literature out there, but that it just hasn’t been very fashionable in recent years. So what if we would start by collectively constructing a reading list on these issues for those who prefer to reason within the analytical tradition?